31 January 2023

23 – The ones

— Hi, beautiful !

John’s voice, punctuated with sweetness, pleasantly roused Dana from a fitful sleep. She opened her eyes and saw his smiling face through the still-foggy filter that blocked them.

He was leaning over her, resting on his elbow. With his free hand, he was tenderly touching her cheek. She smiled back at him while spreading her numb arms to put them around his neck.

— Hi. How do you feel ?

— Better. Looks like an angel repaired the damage while I was sleeping.

— You fell asleep like a rock. You didn’t even flinch when I disinfected the wound. You must have been really tired.

— That’s an understatement. But now I’m in great shape.

He wore his smirk and a playful look. Dana knew all too well the kind of ideas that crossed his mind when he teased like this. She didn’t mind the idea either. She held out her lips to him. He accepted the invitation and kissed her tenderly while seizing the blanket which covered her.

He slowly pulled the fabric to expose her, while the fingers of his other hand slipped in her tangled hair. He contemplated her discovered bust during one moment.

— How long has it been ?

— Since before the accident. So a few weeks ?

— That’s way too long.

— Yes, but I don’t want you to get hurt or suffer.

— Don’t worry about that. I’ll show you some things I can do without pain.

He grabbed her hands and held them over the pillow. Dana let him and offered her mouth again. This time the kiss was fiery and full of ardor. Their teeth clashed several times as John’s tongue sought hers. She murmured between two kisses.

— I missed you.

He answered her by one of his teasing smiles, while his hand slipped to her breast. He seized it gently to knead it. She moaned when he passed his thumb on her sleeping nipple. He left her mouth to put his lips on it and make it harden under his tongue. Dana arched her back and stretched her body even further towards her lover. He took the opportunity to put his second arm behind her back and draw her against him.

She moaned again when John’s lips left her breast to slide along her belly, leaving a delicious wet trail on its passage. He stopped at her lower abdomen to raise his head and stare into her eyes. She bit her lip by looking at him in turn, giving him a silent agreement.

Seed pushed his way down until he reached the lace of her underwear. Dana’s hands left his neck for a moment to make their way between their two bodies and remove the last obstacle which stood between them. John did not lose one second and greedily threw his mouth on her, extirpating her a yell of surprise.

The wet contact of his tongue against her immediately started waves of pleasure undulating from the sole of her feet to the top of her skull. He firmly clamped her sensitive spot between his lips to let his tongue roam freely without her being able to break away from his grip.

— Oh John…

He didn’t pay attention to her call. It was certainly a way to divert him from his objective. And he wasn’t going to be fooled by her pleas. He wanted it too much to let her stop him now. He emphasized his licks, swirling around the sweet spot, salivating between her labia and causing her to uncontrollably moan again. He loved her taste. The taste of submission, that of his own control on her. Thinking about it, lavishing this caress on her was even more enjoyable for him than sexual act in itself.

Encouraged by Dana’s gasps, he ventured the tip of his tongue inside her while his lips continued their sweet torture in the folds of her anatomy. She suddenly arched under him, tending all her body against his. He felt it trembling, she would not delay yielding under ecstasy. His lover’s fingers roughly grabbed his hair to press his face harder against her.

— John…

He ignored the new plea. Dana’s hands fumbled even more messily through his hair. Her jerky movements indicated she wouldn’t resist much longer. It was a matter of seconds. He ran his hands up her body to rest on her offered chest.

— John, yes !

The magic word had spurted out. The one he never got tired of hearing. His name and that sacred chord were the perfect combination, giving him a new boost of energy. Dana violently twisted under his mouth. Every muscle in her body suddenly stiffened, pushing her further into him. She uncontrollably moaned as John tasted the flood of pleasure coming from her. He greedily lapped it up, continuing to massage the surroundings with his hot tongue.

When she finished trembling under his lips, he slowly withdrew from her thighs to put his mouth on hers in an intense kiss. She hadn’t let go of his hair and was still clinging to it, as if her life depended on him. He slid his tongue against that of his fiancée, sharing the salty taste of her pleasure with her.

She released his hair to get busy on the bedside table. He couldn’t see what she was doing but guessed she searched the drawer for condoms. He slackened his embrace to let her move freely, but she had already found the coveted object.

She straightened up, urging him to do the same.

— Dana… I’m not sure I can do this…

— Don’t worry, you’ve fulfilled me. Let me take care of you, and then we’ll see. Let me know if you feel any pain.

He nodded as she put her hand on his soaked and deformed boxers. The contact tore him a groan.

— My poor darling…

She slipped the underwear off with a thousand precautions, avoiding touching the scar in the process.

— Lie down.

He complied and let her finish removing the boxer shorts. He then felt her move up his body, the tip of her breasts brushing in turn inside of his thighs, his crotch and his chest, until her lips reached his mouth. He had shuddered uncontrollably at this contact, which did not escape Dana.

After kissing him tenderly, she plunged her green eyes into his.

— Do you like it ?

— What ?

— When our bodies brush against each other…

— I love it.

She smiled in a mutinous way then moved back, so that she completely put her chest on the Baptist’s belly.

— Mmmmhhh…

Encouraged by his sigh of pleasure, she put her lips on her lover’s chest to gratify him with wet kisses. In her turn, she embraced one by one his hardened nipples between her lips, then seized them gently with her teeth. She felt John’s hairs rise under her caresses. Her tongue engaged in its turn in a ballet of hot and wet strokes. She realized that she had unconsciously leaned on him when she felt his stiffened limb between her breasts.

She blushed, not knowing of the pleasure or the embarrassment which was responsible for it. But he sighed, and it was with pleasure. That’s the main thing. She resumed her wet caresses, moving this time voluntarily her bust against John’s pubic bone to lavish him another kind of caress. From the corner of her eye, she saw his tattooed hands. His closed fists had each grabbed a generous surface of sheet, which they tightened strongly.

Moved by the desire to please him, she overcame her own apprehension and caught his erection to squeeze it against her. He threw her a questioning glance, to which she answered by a malicious smile. Her hands slid slowly from John’s ribs to frame her breasts, which she pressed against each other, her future husband’s sex trapped between them.

John gave a new sigh of contentment as she applied herself to offer him a massage, making his soaked cock slide in the hollow of her breast in sensual back and forth. She observed him attentively. His head was reversed backwards, his eyes closed. Disordered brown strands were stuck to his forehead, his fists always tightening the sheets.

She decided it wasn’t enough. Slowly, she slid the desire-swollen head between her lips, until it settled deep inside her mouth. She felt it throb with excitement and release a slight stream of semen. It seemed her that John’s erection still grew in her. She applied herself to enclose it of her tongue and her lips, taking care to avoid any contact with her teeth. From the way he pulsed in her mouth, she knew that he was not going to hold long.

Soon, John’s hands dropped from the sheet to meet hers, their fingers passionately intertwining. But Dana wanted to make him come more than anything. Her hands still entwined with John’s, she guided him until his palms embraced her breasts. Panting louder and louder, the Baptist let himself be swept away by the game and pressed her breasts to tighten the contact around his penis, while Dana walked her tongue around his dick. Suddenly, he released his grip and pushed the policewoman away.

— Stop it.

— Why ?

— Just lie down. I want you.

She obeyed and lay down on her back, dragging John with her. He winced as his knees went to either side of Dana’s hips.

— Are you in pain ?

— I’ll be fine.

She grabbed the silver package sitting by the pillow and handed it to him.

— No, it’s okay.

She didn’t have time to think about what he was trying to tell her. A warm, pleasing spray caressed her breasts and belly. She looked at John as he released against her in bursts. It seemed as if his features were relaxing after months of suffering. His half-opened mouth let escape moans of delight in which she seemed to recognize her name. He is so beautiful. Even more in this moment.

Feeling her eyes posed on him, he reopened his eyelids to contemplate her in his turn. His gaze went from her soiled belly to her face, as if he was contemplating his work. He was out of breath and strength. He struggled to articulate.

— I’m so sorry… I couldn’t hold it in long enough.

The unfounded apology melted Dana’s heart. She spread out her arms to surround her lover’s shoulders and attract him against her. Exhausted, the Baptist let rest his head against her chest, kissing her breasts with the tip of his lips. He appreciated his fiancée’s fingers playing in his hair and caressing the back of his head, while his own hands roamed over her hips. He didn’t feel sleep getting him.

* * *

— Enough daydreaming, let’s get started.

— What’s your plan ?

— Follow Kim Rye’s idea.

John didn’t let her continue her questioning. He got up as quickly as his injury would allow and jumped into the shower, where she joined him.

After a hearty breakfast, they took the pickup. John insisted on driving. Despite her misgivings, Dana complied, but in return got him to take his two crutches. He’d been through too much the day before, and she wouldn’t let him wear himself out and risk a slower, or even incomplete, recovery because of his mule head.

When he parked right in front of the Spread Eagle, she gave him a startled look.

— Is this a joke ?

— No.

He didn’t give her time to argue, opening the door and getting out of the car while she hadn’t even unbuckled her seat belt.

She watched him limp toward the garage next to the bar.

— John ! Your crutches !

He responded with a gesture that meant he didn’t care. She shrugged, giving up the fight. For the moment.

Almost immediately, the Baptist emerged from the building. Dana didn’t immediately distinguish what he was carrying until he was close enough to her. Oh, my God. You’ve got to be kidding me. Tell me I’m dreaming. She silently watched as he approached the house across the street, stained with the “Sinner” word written in large, black letters on the front.

Once in front of the word, he took the mop out of the bucket he was carrying, making droplets fly in all directions. As soon as he placed it against the façade, the black paint of the cursed word began to drool. The Baptist went to work despite the pain that was awakening. But the paint wouldn’t fade, despite the increasingly aggressive brush movements.

The sound of scrubbing and water dripping could be heard on this silent Sunday afternoon. Soon, one house door then two opened revealing incredulous faces. A few clients scrambled out of the Spread Eagle to see what was going on. Then others joined them, forming a semicircle around Seed, who continued his task without paying them any attention.

The onlookers exchanged comments in mid-tones. Some of them were probably frightened. The news of John’s accident had apparently not yet made it around the county. Perhaps they feared another trap set by Eden’s Gate to get something out of them.

A bolder man raised his voice in the crowd.

— Get out of the way, leave us our town !

Another one, encouraged, echoed him.

— Yeah ! Down with Eden’s Gate ! Go home, shave and wash !

Dana clenched her fists. John didn’t react. All his attention was focused on his task. She undid her seat belt and put her hand on the door, ready to intervene if necessary.

The crowd began to boo the Baptist. Some people called him names. This was too much. Dana rushed out of the car and stepped between the aggressive crowd and her lover. A woman screamed.

— There’s the deputy. Arrest him ! Do your job, once and for all !

— Yeah ! To prison !

— On death row, rather !

This time, she felt compelled to intervene. She ran to the garage where John seemed to have found the cleaning material, followed by the onlookers. She quickly searched the warehouse and found a second broom, which she grabbed before running to the front of the house, forcing her way through the aggressive crowd.

Ignoring the onlookers, she too moistened the brush and began to scrub the wall alongside John.

Although her back was to them, she felt the bewildered eyes on her. Whispers went around the assembly as suspicious looks were exchanged. She immediately recognized Mary May Faigrave’s voice, which spoke above the hubbub.

— Do you think cleaning a wall will cleanse your soul of all your sins ? Let me tell you, it won’t. You don’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness. Not even from God. All you deserve, Seed, is to burn for eternity in hell.

Cheerful voices cheered her intervention. Dana glanced over at John, who seemed to be ignoring the hatred that was coming his way. He continued to scrub, relentlessly. Despite his apparent nonchalance, she was sure words had touched him. She knew how much he hated himself and thought he was responsible for all the ills of the world. It wasn’t hard to blame him, so much as the child he had been had believed in the horrors his “parents” had instilled in him. Mary May continued.

— That’s it, rub ! Scrub until your skin rips from your fingers, until your flesh falls apart, until your bones disintegrate. And even then, you won’t be forgiven. You’re just a dirty bastard, a scumbag and a demon. And the worst part is that you managed to drag a police officer down with you. How naive she is, believing your snake-like lies. What did you do to gain her trust ?

The blood rushed through Dana’s veins. With a sudden jolt, she turned around and came face to face with the bartender. With the broom still in her hand, she took a step forward until their faces were only inches apart.

— Shut up now, Fairgrave !

— Or what ?

Dana had to restrain herself, itching to punch her in the face. No. That would hurt John more than anything else. She calmly put the mop on the floor and turned around just as slowly to face Mary May again.

— I’ll have to arrest you.

She quickly glared at the entire audience.

— And all of you too.

The barmaid let out a cynical laugh.

— Ah, and for what reason ?

Dana gave her a Machiavellian smile.

— For disturbing public order !

Mary May laughed, followed by the crowd.

— Nonsense. Get out of here now, let us deal with Seed !

With a sharp gesture, she shoved Dana, sending her staggering among the onlookers who quickly threw their arms around her to hold her tight. She tried to struggle, yelling at people to let her go, but to no avail. She watched helplessly as the impending drama unfolded before her. Tears welled up in her eyes as the barmaid inexorably moved closer to John. She inwardly prayed.

Mary May grabbed the Baptist’s wrist, stopping him in his tracks. He glared at her.

— Let me work.

Work ? Have you ever experienced that ?

— You don’t know anything about me.

— I know enough to know where you belong. In hell.

John turned to face her. He calmly put down his mop and resumed.

— Look…

He shifted his position to face the entire audience.

— Listen, everyone. I know that my family and I have hurt you. I sincerely regret the way things went down. I’m sorry. I know that nothing I do will bring back the lost or give you your lives back. But I still want to help you rebuild Fall’s End. I will provide all the money and effort necessary to rebuild the houses. All your properties are returned to you. I will no longer support the disaster my brother created and is still creating. Let me help you.

After a brief silence, the crowd was divided between loud laughter and booing. The only common reaction was indifference or disbelief at John’s statements. One voice rose above the others.

— He must pay !

— Yeah ! Get him !

Dana struggled to free herself from the arms that held her tightly, as the human tide closed inexorably on John.

A deafening bang sounded. Some ducked, looking for the source of the noise, while others covered their ears as they moved away. In the commotion, Dana’s jailers loosened their grip, allowing her to escape and run to Seed.

After the surprise wore off, all eyes focused on the Spread Eagle, where the bang had come from. Killian stood in front of the bar, his P226 still smoking in hand. He addressed the crowd in an authoritative manner.

— What’s going on here ?

Several voices rose at once, creating an incomprehensible hubbub. The FBI agent interrupted them.

— Wow ! Stop ! Not all at once, I can’t understand anything. Mary ?

The barmaid, visibly uncomfortable, quickly moved away from John and towards the newcomer.

— Well, dear Seed is trying to make us believe that he has changed sides and wants to help us. And your… friend has been bamboozled. But now that you’re here, you’ll be able to talk some sense into her and stop this creep.

Killian holstered his gun and walked over to Seed and Dana while answering Mary May.

— Weird, that’s not exactly the version I saw before I fired.

The bartender stood dumbfounded as he gently grabbed the deputy’s shoulders, who was herself hugging John.

— Are you okay, Dana ? Did they hurt you ?

— No, I’m fine. thanks.

— How about you ?

The Baptist nodded, putting a comforting arm around the policewoman. Killian faced the crowd again.

— Listen to me carefully. I know you’re angry, sad and desperate. And I also know Joseph Seed is behind everything that has happened here, and his brother is far from innocent. However, that is no reason to lash out at him and take justice into your own hands. He will have to answer for his actions before a court of law and before God. It’s not up to you. Don’t stoop to the level of Eden’s Gate, be sensible and stop acting like children.

No one dared to argue with him. Not even Mary May, who stared at him with wide eyes. Dana put her arm under John’s to support him.

— Come on. Lean on me. Let’s get out of here.

The Baptist accepted her help and leaned on her shoulder to walk to the pickup truck parked nearby as the crowd scattered through Fall’s End. Only Killian remained. Once Dana had helped John into the passenger seat, she joined Killian. With a worried look on his face, he inquired about her condition.

— Are you okay ?

— Yes. Thank you, Killian. Thanks a lot. If you hadn’t intervened, this would have certainly gotten out of hand.

— I know. I waited a while to get involved.

— Mary May… she’s really upset.

— Yeah. She’s mad as hell at him. He’s responsible for…

— …her brother’s death, I know.

Killian stared at her, dumbfounded.

— Pastor Jerome told me.

— Oh.

— You still think people can change ?

— More than ever. Your knight risked a lot to prove it today. He should be careful. Who’s gonna take care of you if something happens to him ?

Dana smiled sincerely. He smiled back at her. She threw herself into his arms to hug him, he returned her embrace.

— Thanks again, Killian. Mary May is lucky.

— You were lucky too. You passed it up, preferring playing with fire black knight to fearless and blameless avenger. Too bad for you, I sell my charms to the highest bidder.

She laughed as they parted and placed a friendly kiss on his cheek before getting into the car and driving off.

* * *

The news had quickly spread throughout Hope County. From the Whitetail to Henbane, Resistance had peddled the fact that John wanted to repent for his actions and that deputy supported him. Even Killian Riley’s intervention had been repeated to anyone who would listen.

While Whitehorse was already suspicious of Dana’s convictions, he had been more shocked by the federal agent’s attitude. This new situation would further complicate the arrest and extraction of the evil siblings and their followers. For now, he was content to wait until Marshal Burke’s remission was complete. Although he had never condoned his actions, ignoring his presence and his federal mandate was unthinkable.

Earl didn’t care about the fallout this story might have on his reputation. He looked forward to the day when he could enjoy a well-deserved retirement and Martha’s pies while watching his grandchildren play in the garden. What bothered him more was that Hope County could become the target of malicious media and the laughing stock of America.

This was the county where every generation of his family had grown up. For as long as he could remember, the Whitehorse family had been sheriffs from father to son. Always respected by their peers, they had kept order and peace in the three areas now enslaved by the Seed and their cult. Unfortunately, neither of Earl’s two daughters had taken an interest in his job, leaving the position orphaned.

When Dana Riley joined the team, he saw potential in her right away. She quickly became his protégée. She was bright, intelligent, brave and curious. She reminded him of young Earl, fresh out of the police academy. Today, he considered her almost his third daughter and hoped with all his heart that she would take over the reins, especially since she had saved his life on several occasions, notably by convincing Rachel Jessop to release him after his short detention in the Hope County jail.

Although he guessed her feelings for John Seed, he sincerely hoped that she would open her eyes and realize that she had been blinded by the perfect image the Baptiste reflected. Earl wasn’t stupid. She had done everything she could to avoid a frank conversation and always spoke in half words. Despite this, he had immediately understood what it was all about. She had fallen for him, certainly at first sight. He had detected the same sparkle in her eyes as when her own daughters had introduced future sons-in-law to him.

If she decided to take the wrong side, then she would have to give up the sheriff’s job he was offering her. Earl couldn’t bring himself to that. He hoped with all his heart he could change her mind. Even so, he wanted her to be happy, his fatherly heart overriding the sheriff’s reasoning. She was a good kid. Since joining the team, she’d single-handedly taken on more responsibility and risk than Hudson and Pratt had in their entire careers combined.

He had to find a compromise. There was no way that scumbag Seed was going to get away with his actions. But he couldn’t bring himself to lose his best soldier. A discussion with Burke was necessary.

He covered his messy hair with his ever-present headgear and took a determined step toward the observation room where Burke had been staying since his return from the Siren’s stronghold.

Burke was sitting on his cot in his medical robes. He had shown aggressive and suicidal tendencies, so his service weapon had been confiscated. Only the grayish leather holster sat on the bedside table, next to a plastic cup filled to the brim with water and a few pills laid carelessly on the wood. He seemed to be immersed in reading a thick book.

— “The messenger is often attacked for delivering bad news.” Do you believe that crap, Sheriff ?

Earl’s muscles stiffened with a jolt. He hadn’t expected to find the marshal so lucid and to be picked on as soon as he crossed the threshold of the room. He cleared his throat before answering.

— What’s this bullshit, Burke ?

The federal agent raised the book at arm’s length to show him the cover, commenting.

— The fucking Book of Joseph. Bible of these lunatics.

Whitehorse reached over and grabbed the book. He briefly examined it. It’s a hell of a book. Where did that crazy Joseph Seed get all that inspiration ? He put it down on the bedside table and turned to Cameron.

— We need to discuss the situation.

— What situation ?

— The one we’re in right now, and it’s going to make a hell of a mess.

— Stop playing me for a fool, sheriff. Brief me instead of beating around the bush.

Earl tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat, to no avail. He cleared his throat before continuing.

— Here’s the deal : all those crazy Seed guys let their prisoners go. You, me, Pratt and Hudson. The fact they don’t have any more hostages makes it easier. But we have another problem.

Burke raised an eyebrow. Whitehorse seemed to hesitate before continuing.

— The kid is too involved.

— Who are you talking about ? Speak fucking plainly, because I don’t understand your gibberish, Sheriff.

With a hesitant hand, Earl took off his felt hat and grasped it between his palms, playing nonchalantly with the ribbon closing its rim. Embarrassed by the content of his speech, he could not bring himself to stare the marshal in the eye as he continued his explanation.

— Dana Riley, the young policewoman who joined my team a few months ago.

—  The rookie who cuffed Seed ? What’s her problem ?

— Sounds like she’s got a thing for John.

Burke went from an incredulous look to a thunderous, mocking laugh, startling Earl.

— She’s got a thing for one of those weirdos ? You’d have to be pretty messed up to be attracted to such creeps ! Don’t worry, Sheriff. As soon as he’s behind bars, it’ll be old business. She’ll move on and realize her stupid mistake. You can give her a good reprimand, believe me, that will do her more good than pretending she didn’t do anything wrong. Is that your only problem ?

He reached for the cup on the bedside table and shoved several greenish pills down his throat. Whitehorse cleared his throat again as his fingers ran more and more nervously over the worn edge of his headgear.

— Unfortunately, this crush complicates things a bit. Yesterday, she took his side at Fall’s End, in front of the entire community.

Burke loudly spat out the water he was swallowing, spraying the ground in front of him. Before he had time to react, the sheriff continued.

— And it gets worse. Your colleague backed her up.

This time, Burke sat up on his mattress and raised his voice, becoming almost threatening.

— What colleague ? What the hell are you talking about ?

— The FBI agent who showed up in the middle of the battle. Don’t you remember ?

— I’ve never seen any FBI agents in this quagmire of a county. I’m the only representative Uncle Sam sent to root out the devil. We were never briefed on any FBI presence. Either you’re off the rails, or this guy’s got you fooled !

The marshal seemed more stricken than Earl had first thought. He was sure that Burke had been in contact with Riley on several occasions. Some of Faith’s and John’s men he’d gotten hold of had confirmed it. Sure, cultists could lie, but to what end ? Bliss could have caused him to lose some of his memory, that seemed the most likely hypothesis. But if so, what exactly did he remember, and what had he forgotten ? How much had his mind and judgment been affected by the drug ? Was he still trustworthy and able to fulfill his obligations ? He was certain that officer Killian Riley was sworn in. He had seen his badge and service weapon with his own eyes.

Despite his lack of sympathy for Burke since their meeting, Earl was a straight and proper cop. Lying to him or using his memory loss to influence him was unthinkable.

— You’ve met him, marshal. On several occasions. Including when Faith Seed was holding you in her goddamn bliss plantation greenhouse. Anyway. That’s not the point. What matters to me is that we have one federal agent out of order, and another who’s condoning the shit that’s going on here.

— I’m not out of the fucking loop. Give me my gun back, I’ll personally see to it that this shit ends. We’ll see if the girl still cares about her beau after I put one in his head.

Whitehorse shuddered. No. I’m not going to let this happen.

— No.

— No ?

Burke had raised an accusing eyebrow at the sheriff, probably surprised to be contradicted.

— No. We’ve already tried to do things your way. All we can do is see where it got us. It’s time for a change. Now we’re going to work my way.

A petty grin spread across the marshal’s face, who had painfully stood up and walked toward the door.

— What’s your way ? Leaving the area to that damned cult ? Fearing reprisals and not arresting those responsible ?

— I never said that. This must end, but not like this. We are not barbarians nor criminals. We will arrest Joseph Seed. He and his siblings will have to answer to the law. But I don’t want any more bloodshed, our coming has caused enough slaughter.

— Our coming ? Are you kidding me ? Now we’re the ones responsible for this mess ?

— I didn’t say that. But the way we approach the situation can greatly influence the outcome.

— So what’s your plan ?

Whitehorse confidently placed the hat back on his head. With a wave of his index finger, he pushed his large glasses weathered frame up his nose.

— Let’s find that FBI agent. He’ll be able to convince the girl. They were married once.

Burke’s eyes widened as much as their sockets would allow.

— It gets better and better ! Let’s sum up the situation : the girl you seem to think of as your own daughter has fallen for one of these degenerates and is willing to do anything for him, including giving up her duties as a sworn agent. And you’re counting on a stranger out of nowhere, who’s more than close to her, to reason with her and make her forget her feelings ? What the fuck planet do you live on, sheriff ?

* * *

Cold temperatures and gloomy weather would soon give way to the first light of spring. But for now, flowers were still far from blooming and winter snows had given way to a kind of gray slush that engulfed most of the county’s roads.

Despite this, Nick continued to head to Fall’s End every day to down a few well-deserved beers with his friends. This ritual had been going on after every workday for many years. Depending on the season and the activities involved, the team was not always the same. However, the same core group was always present : Rye, Mary May, Jerome and Hurk Drubman Jr. This afternoon, he was alone with the bartender. With his eyes glued to the bottle of beer on the counter in front of him, he tried to sort out his disordered thoughts.

This week, all discussions were drifting unconditionally to the incident that had taken place the previous Sunday. Everyone had their own opinion on the matter, some of which were quite strong. Although Rye was not present at the scandal, he had his own opinion and was not shy about telling his version of events to anyone who would listen.

He took great pleasure in recounting repeatedly how John Seed had come knocking on his door and how he had received him. Surprisingly, he didn’t dwell on the discussion between Kim and him that followed, nor on the way she took him back and factually explained the situation.

Deep down, he felt an embarrassment for this police officer who had gone over to the wrong side. She had nevertheless done all that was in her capacity to help them, his family and him. She had brought Carmina, the family plane, back to him in one piece, which had been no small feat. The risks she had taken were reckless, and no one had taken them before her, not even his friends at Fall’s End. Even Eli and his Whitetails had never ventured to directly infiltrate one of Eden’s Gate bases.

He grabbed the Whistling Beaver stamped bottle and downed it. The freshness of the drink surprised him. The sparkle of newly brewed beer gave him a feeling of well-being and familiarity. He felt as if his mind was clearing.

After all, it certainly hadn’t been that hard for her to get his plane back, given that she was sleeping with the enemy who kept the plane. Besides, how long had this been going on ? Was she already banging Seed when he had tattooed them and ruthlessly ripped Nick’s sin off ? Were they already seeing each other when she’d brought him his aircraft ? And if so, had she bargained the plane away for some sort of sexual consideration ?

This idea disgusted him to the point of nausea. How could she do this to them ? How had Seed managed to turn her against them ? Rye was aware of the Baptist’s powers of persuasion, but he never thought he would be able to turn a sworn officer who had come specifically to arrest him.

The bar’s creaking door pulled him out of his reverie. He swiveled on his stool to greet the newcomer. Pastor Jerome shook his hand and sat down beside him. Mary May soon emerged from the storeroom to take his order. As usual, he settled for an Earl Grey tea, which she quickly served him. It was a quality that Nick appreciated. Mary knew every customer’s taste by heart and anticipated orders before they arrived. As soon as she placed the cup on the counter, she disappeared back into her storeroom, probably busy with her weekly inventory.

— What’s up, Nick ? How are Kimiko and sweet Carmina ?

— Fine, Father. They’re fine.

— You don’t look fine. You seem very pensive.

— Yeah, I am. That weirdo John Seed’s given a lot of us something to think about, including me.

— Oh. But you weren’t there when he said he wanted to make amends for his sins ?

— No. But he had the audacity to show up at my house and make me an outrageous proposal.

Jerome sat up straight in his seat, challenged. He blew on his hot drink before continuing.

— Interesting. What did this proposal consist of ?

— Dirty money and an apology for me to shut up and turn a blind eye to all the crap he’s done to us.

— What was your response ?

Nick leapt off his stool, waltzing it on two feet.

— Who the hell do you think I am ? I sent them to hell !

— “Them” ?

— The policewoman was with him.

— Dana ?

Rye stared at him, bewildered. The pastor slowly raised his cup to his lips and took a sip of tea before continuing.

— Dana Riley, that’s her name. Don’t be surprised, I didn’t know it either until recently.

Jerome put down his cup and approached Rye.

— Nick, I know that John Seed hurt you and your family. He hurt us all. But now he is admitting his mistakes, asking for forgiveness and doing good deeds to repent. No matter how terrible our past misdeeds, the Lord always welcomes us when we repent. If God can forgive John for his actions, then so can I. And so can you.

Rye stared at him in disbelief, unable to respond. The pastor continued.

— Everyone does the best they can with the elements in their possession, their own past and their convictions. I, for one, am certain of the sincerity of the feelings between John Seed and deputy Riley. This relationship has changed them both, for the better. Slaughtering the people of Eden’s Gate was never a fitting way to crusade against Joseph Seed. None of us are perfect, but we all strive to be better.

Father Jeffries quickly finished his cup of tea. He stood up and gave Nick a friendly pat on the back before putting on his coat.

— I’m asking you to think about it. Today you have an opportunity to forgive and move on. If not for yourself, think about your daughter. And that policewoman who helped you. She didn’t have to do it.

Rye froze for a moment, unable to think. He quickly finished his beer before leaving to find his family.

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